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Instead, Trump—with his all-powerful Twitter feed and fundraising list—might become the party’s most reliable megaphone and kingmaker, akin to the role Sarah Palin played in 2010 amid the rise of the Tea Party after her 2008 defeat as John McCain’s running mate. In that sense, it’s possible that the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential race would actually be the most MAGA-friendly GOP primaries yet, conducted almost entirely on a stage designed by Trump himself, with supplicants parading through Mar-a-Lago to kiss the ring and an entire generation of GOP stars molded in his image. And that’s even before considering the Trump family’s direct influence—say a titanic Ivanka vs. AOC campaign in New York for Chuck Schumer’s Senate seat in 2022 or Donald Jr.’s campaign for Congress (or even the presidency) in 2024, as he becomes the next-generation MAGA standard-bearer.

This path of influence might prove one of the most stable visions ahead, assuming a relative level of normalcy from a man who has time and again demonstrated anything but. In fact, this entire piece and its imagined premise of a Trump post-presidency assumes that Trump and those around him would, at least superficially, if not graciously, accept a loss and that he would be content to just grumble loudly from the political balcony à la Statler and Waldorf in The Muppet Show.

There are darker visions and scenarios in which Trump never does accept a 2020 defeat, is pushed reluctantly from the White House in January, and moves to assume some more explicit mantle of a wronged leader-in-exile. Al Gore, after his acrimonious defeat, traveled across Europe and grew a beard, instead of setting up an opposition government in the lobby of the Willard Hotel across from the White House. But imagine if he had wanted to contest the election long past Inauguration Day?

Imagine that on January 21Kayleigh McEnany begins broadcasting regular news briefings from the Trump Hotel a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House; picture the 45th president hosting congressional leaders in a replica Oval Office reconstructed inside his hotel to plot GOP strategy and rail against the injustices done his supporters, using Twitter to stoke ongoing protests and MAGA-nation resistance across the country and touring to show up at boat parades and host his signature rallies. What if Trump wakes up each day attempting to explicitly—not just passively—undermine a Biden domestic policy at home and foreign policy overseas? He could go as far as even appointing his own “shadow cabinet,” fundraising off his aggrieved fan base as they underwrite his most loyal aides like Mike Pompeo and Mike Pence, who would also be out of office alongside Trump and casting about for how to chart their own political futures. They could hold their own political meetings, press conferences and appear every night on Fox News to stir the national political pot.

Rather than being able to focus on combating the pandemic and restarting the economy, Biden could find himself consumed on a daily basis by responding and batting away Trump’s latest conspiracies and complaints, and the nation consumed by an unprecedented roiling, low-grade political insurgency unlike anything the country has ever experienced. One open question, though, is how much hold does a defeated Trump end up having on the nation’s attention as time goes by? What seems wild on January 21 might become background noise by late February. As one media expert said to me: “The question is how much people stop listening to him?”

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A Media Venture (But Not An Empire)

Almost no matter his approach to his successor—merely disgruntled or actively hostile—Trump will surely want to be listened to, which is why he might look for a platform to keep himself in steady communication with the national movement of the disaffected he’s fostered over the past five years as he seized and remade the Republican Party.

“He should go where his genius takes him,” says one expert. “He’s a genius about attention. Where is that most easily monetized? He’s a man in constant need for attention and exceptionally good at commanding and holding it.”

Rumors have long circulated that the Trump family would try to build its own media empire. Some have speculated that in 2016 Trump had been planning to launch “Trump TV” if, as even he expected, he lost the presidency to Hillary Clinton; one reporter even swore to me he saw a sign on the camera riser at Trump’s election night victory celebration reserving a spot for “Trump TV.” Earlier this year, there was conjecture that the Trump family and its backers might be interested in boosting and formally partnering with One America News (OAN), the upstart Fox challenger that has become an all but unofficial Trump TV.

But many around Trump doubt that’s where his ambitions truly lie. Starting a media company would be tremendous work and capital intensive, and unless he was set up as the front man for deep-pocketed investors willing to do the heavy lifting, it hardly seems like the type of project a man who spent nearly a year of his presidency golfing would take up.

At the same time, establishing some sort of regularized media engagement will almost certainly be necessary as part of a unified brand-building and cross-promotion exercise—just as he used campaign appearances in 2016 to promote his branded wares before it became clear he’d actually win the nomination. In the future, think a Trump talk radio or TV show where the commercials are hawking Trump steaks. Even as president, the Trump family has continued to apply for additional trademarks around the world, presumably for future projects and products.

“Whatever he does, he’ll be a bad actor in the media environment,” says one political observer. “Even if the Republican Party abandons him and says ‘Trump who?’ he still has enormous reach to people who are disaffected and violent. ‘Stand back and stand by.’ I’d imagine he’d want to stay public in the same way he did with birtherism—but dialed up a notch. He wants to be relevant. He’s been very successful creating this dark and chaotic political environment. That makes him powerful even if he’s not holding office.”

As another expert says, “He’s going to do whatever it takes to stay in the conversation—and it’s going to take being ever more outrageous to stay there.”


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The GOP’s choice in 2024: Trump Ultra, Trump Lite or Trump Zero

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In the scramble to get the entire world vaccinated, countries like China and Russia are trying to use vaccine sales and donations to lift their standings on the global stage.

“Trump remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room, he just happens to be sitting in the corner right now,” former Michigan state chair Saul Anuzis said, joking that the social media de-platforming of the former president is “more like an electronic dog fence. … You can definitely still hear the bark.”

Already, potential prospects and party leaders are making pilgrimages to Trump’s Palm Beach club for an audience with the former president. It’s a reflection, top Republicans say, of a nomination contest that will break down along fault lines that trace back to Trump.

“The winner of our primary [in 2024] will be someone from the Full Trump lane who embraces Trump and is embraced by him,” said Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a confidant of the former president who met with him last week at Mar-a-Lago and has taken on the role of party enforcer.

Gaetz, who’s also scheduled to speak at CPAC, said few will challenge Trump if he decides to run again. And he predicted that candidates who fail to embrace Trump’s legacy in full will only have a “mirage” of support “because their base is essentially Washington-based media who give them more appearances on the Sunday shows than their percentage point support in polling of Republican voters.”

On the eve of CPAC, here is a breakdown of the 2024 GOP presidential lanes that are taking shape.

Trump Ultra

There’s a saying by some in Trump’s orbit that “if you’re with him 99 percent of the time, you’re a damn traitor” — a testament to the absolute, unwavering loyalty he demands. Those purity and loyalty tests make the Trump Ultra lane one of the toughest to run in.

A key metric for senators and representatives who expect to occupy this lane: opposition to the Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College results that officially made him the loser and that led to the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. That puts Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and Florida Sen. Rick Scott — all CPAC speakers — squarely in the Trump Ultra camp.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, whose stock is rising rapidly in the national party, will open the conference with welcoming remarks. He sports sterling MAGA credential for his Trumpist handling of Covid and status as governor of Trump’s newly adopted home state — which the former president won twice. To this day, DeSantis refuses to publicly acknowledge that President Joe Biden was legitimately elected.

DeSantis isn’t the only governor in this category: South Dakota’s Kristi Noem, another CPAC speaker, is a dark horse candidate. Noem, who is holding a fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago on March 5, is a Fox News regular who once gave Trump a miniature Mt. Rushmore featuring his own face.

Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state known within the previous administration for his unwillingness to criticize Trump even in private, is also in this crowded group and is scheduled to speak at CPAC.

Trump Lite

The Trump Lite lane is populated by candidates who have put any daylight — however little — between themselves and the former president.

In the case of former Vice President Mike Pence, who was unceasingly loyal to Trump for more than four years, it was his refusal to reject the Electoral College certification when he presided over the vote. That apostasy costs him among many Trump supporters. He declined an invitation to speak at CPAC.

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, a leading voice in criticizing China — one of Trump’s signature issues — is in the same situation after voting to accept the Electoral College results. So is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

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Although Rubio carved out a niche for himself as a consistent anti-anti-Trump Republican who frequently attacks the former president’s critics, he committed the sin of mildly criticizing Trump after his two impeachments and blasted him as a primary rival in 2016. Both are scheduled to speak at CPAC.

Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, recently stepped out of the full Trump lane by making critical comments about her onetime boss and was promptly snubbed by the former president when she requested an audience with him at Mar-a-Lago.

In an interview prior to Haley’s criticisms of Trump, South Carolina GOP strategist Wesley Donehue predicted she would win her home state but noted that support of the former president is of utmost importance, according to a poll of Republican primary voters he took in the state in early February.

“About 75 percent of Republican primary voters said supporting Donald Trump is a requirement for office. Again: a requirement. It’s absolutely astonishing,” Donehue said. “So she was seen in this state as being 100 percent with Donald Trump, but now over the last two weeks, we’re starting to hear a lot of rumblings. People still love Nikki Haley here, but she’s got to figure out a way to deal with this. I don’t know how she does, though. Because Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be someone with a short memory.”

Haley’s standing in her home state’s primary looms large because the lanes the candidates will run in have both an ideological and geographical dimension. Since South Carolina is traditionally the third state to vote in a primary — and the first to go in the South — it exerts an extra gravitational pull.

In New Hampshire, sandwiched between the Iowa and South Carolina contests, Republican strategist Jim Merrill said that Trump Lite could be “potentially the broadest lane … a hybrid that is able to point out Trump’s shortcomings while also working to build on his gains with working class Americans.”

Trump Zero

Jeff Roe, who advised Cruz on his 2016 presidential bid, has polled Republican primary voters extensively in recent years on what type of candidate they would support. He’s determined that the party has three distinctive lanes: a Full Trump lane, a Most Conservative lane (composed of fiscal and social conservatives) and a Most Electable lane that reflects a preference for whomever can beat the Democrats.

“If you don’t pick a lane, you will get run over,” Roe said. “Candidates who try to hold a mirror up to the electorate and say, ‘Look at me, I’m just like you,’ instead of saying, ‘This is who I am, vote for me,’ will lose. Voters want authenticity. They want leaders.”

That focus on electability is at the heart of the Trump Zero lane. It is essentially the vehicle of the anti-Trump wing, the province of those who have called out the president frequently for his rhetoric and post-election behavior, yet can single out some positive aspects of Trump’s four-year reign.

The problem is the lane might be so small that it’s not much of a path at all, said David Kochel, a longtime GOP strategist from first-in-the-nation Iowa who counts Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse among this group.

“It’s probably not even a lane,” Kochel said. “It’s more like a gravelly shoulder on the side of the mountain that’s about to crumble into the ocean.”


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Neera Tanden Got Twitter Right—And That Was her Problem

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But Twitter has its own way of tempting you into provocative tweets, and then turning on you—especially when you make enough enemies from different points on the political spectrum, and they find a common moment for revenge.

A onetime Boston political boss named Martin Lomasney, who wielded power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had an oft-repeated rule for politicians: “Never write if you can speak, never speak if you can nod, never nod if you can wink.” Lomasney would surely have run in the other direction from Twitter, which isn’t just public but permanent. Yes, Donald Trump played the platform like a virtuoso; other politicians have used it savvily to bypass gatekeepers and build a base of loyalists. But for a political player, every tweet is fraught with peril: Even if you aren’t overtly insulting someone, there’s a chance some statement from your past will contradict a current political stance, or apply with poetic justice to a compromising situation.

Still, political types are also human beings, and the temptation to pour every thought onto Twitter, in search of a reaction, is ultimately biological. When you put out a tweet, anticipating a “like” or a “share,” your brain gets a hit of a pleasure neurochemical, says psychiatrist David Greenfield, founder and medical director of the Connecticut-based Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. At the same time, he says, the brain cuts off its pathways to the frontal cortex, the area that governs judgment. Once, this shutdown of higher-level thinking was a convenient evolutionary tool, Greenfield says: Prehistoric hunter-gatherers needed to shut out reason to serve the higher directives of mating and eating. Today, though, it has given us an internet that functions like “the world’s largest slot machine,” he says, as users embark on an endless hunt for validation. Tanden’s nakedly partisan tweets could derive her plenty of pleasure; one tweet during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—“Susan Collins’ terrible treatment of Dr. Ford should haunt Collins for the rest of her days”—drew 3,097 retweets and 8,295 likes.

In the age of the ideological bubble, political tweets pose a specific kind of risk. If you’re sharing like-minded partisan thoughts with like-minded people, you’re likely to forget that you risk a negative reaction, says Whitney Phillips, a communications professor at Syracuse University and co-author of the upcoming book You Are Here: A Field Guide For Navigating Polarized Speech, Conspiracy Theories, and Our Polluted Media Landscape

. “You speak in a code that’s appropriate for the audience,” Phillips says. But once your statement lands in front of a less-friendly group, your intentions don’t matter. “It’s impossible to control any of our messages,” she says. “You can only focus on the consequences.”
Phillips cites an internet axiom known as “Poe’s Law”—coined in the early 2000s, on a message board for creationists, when a user who called himself Nathan Poe declared that it was hard to discern the true believers from people who were being sarcastic. On the internet, Poe’s Law holds, you can’t know anybody’s true intentions. A commenter could be sincere or mocking, a real human being or a fake account. Anger could be deeply-felt or cynically overblown. And it’s easy to weaponize the outrage machine. It was a right-wing provocateur—hoping to reveal what he saw as Hollywood hypocrisy—who unearthed incendiary old jokes
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about rape and pedophilia from “Guardians of the Galaxy” filmmaker James Gunn’s Twitter feed in 2018, Phillips notes. But it was left-wing outrage over those tweets that ultimately got Gunn fired.

Tanden’s tweets, it’s fair to say, weren’t as troublesome as Gunn’s. She was largely pumping out standard-issue political snark, the kind Trump used to post from the White House on nearly an hourly basis. Still, there are rules of political conduct, and—if you’re not Trump—consequences for breaking them. In 2008, Samantha Power, then an advisor to presidential candidate Barack Obama, resigned from the campaign after telling a Scottish reporter that Hillary Clinton was a “monster.” Power had violated a norm: voicing the kind of insult that’s usually shared, Lomasney-style, outside the public view. (Post-election, her career recovered quickly.) And, like Gunn, Tanden succeeded in getting both groups—those on the left and the right—on her bad side. If everything you tweet can be used as ammunition in the future, it’s particularly lethal when it’s coming at you from all sides.

Tanden clearly realized that old tweets could cause her trouble in this new career moment, when she had to emerge from her Clinton-Biden bubble and confront her onetime targets in the flesh. Soon after Biden named her to the budget post, she deleted at least 1,000 tweets. But the internet never forgets. And, in keeping with Poe’s Rule, it has been hard to tell who on Capitol Hill is truly horrified, and who merely senses a political opportunity. At her confirmation hearing before the Budget Committee, Sanders chided Tanden for her “vicious attacks made against progressives. People who I have worked with. Me personally.” But he also has a longer-standing beef with Tanden over the 2016 election and her ideological agenda. And he seems not the type to wither in front of an insult.

Tanden did her duty and apologized profusely, hinting that she wanted to distance herself from the cesspool Twitter had become. But the truth is, she was following the rules of her chosen medium all along. There’s no point in tweeting if you aren’t saying something that can rile people up. “Our networks have been designed for this exact outcome,” Phillips says. “The most rancorous stuff becomes the stuff that is most visible, that has the most purchase.”

In other words, the internet did everything in its power to make Tanden act the way she did, rewarded her with nearly 377,000 followers, then punished her in the end. And yet, with every tweet, she had free will. Greenfield counsels his patients who want to change their internet habits to never actually type out a tweet in the “compose” box, in Twitter or any other social media platform. Rather, he says, type your message in the Notes app, think about it for a minute, and cut and paste when you’re good and ready. Martin Lomasney would have considered that decent advice.




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Stephen Miller tangles with Florida GOP freshman at House immigration meeting

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Freshman GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar got into a lively exchange over immigration with former Trump aide Stephen Miller during a meeting with a group of House Republicans on Wednesday, according to multiple Republican sources.

The back-and-forth came during the end of Miller’s presentation before the Republican Study Committee, the largest conservative caucus within the House GOP. Miller, the architect of Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, spoke before the group alongside other former Trump administration immigration officials.

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Sources say Salazar pushed for immigration policies that would broaden the GOP tent while challenging Miller on how Republicans can attract Hispanic and Latino voters given the ultra-conservative policies he is advocating.


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